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Rene Redzepi: Impossibilities and Possibilities, Part 2

Rene Redzepi: Impossibilities and Possibilities, Part 2

This is the second in a two-part interview with chef Rene Redzepi. You can find the first here.

What is the next stage in this exploration process?
It is going to discuss seasonality and how you deal with it throughout the year. The first one is in our oceans during the cold months from January to April, the second is a green flow of vegetables and anything coming from the plant kingdom from May to August, and the third is in the forests or wilderness from September to December. This is where we see abundance of different ingredients during the year and this is what I feel we should be focusing on cooking in those periods.

Will that change the menu format?
It will change it by season quite dramatically from going from fish and shellfish to vegetarian and then focused on more game meats and wild fruits. These three seasons and how you can eat during these will be represented on the menu. Once you realize that, wow! It makes sense to cook like that you develop a more interesting perspective on seasonality for this region as this is what available here. Once you come to that realization there is no going back and I thought about this and now we have to change into becoming a part of that process. This is what we have been working on for the past three years.

Your critics say that this shift is a way of getting publicity.
Publicity you can get in so many ways, and for us we are really lucky in that aspect. We didn't have to change our restaurant to get that publicity. We have more exposure than ever before and I would say it's actually a huge risk for us to change in this way.

Are you apprehensive about taking on this risk?
It would be easy to stay put instead of taking on this huge risk and continue doing what we are doing now and keep the status quo. We can just move forward and have MAD grow and we have lots of other things to build on while still pushing ahead. We are actually going to close everything and almost start again in a new space, with new rhythms and a new soul.

As a father with a young family are you scared about risking your future?
I am very scared because we are going to risk everything. In reality we are risking a lot to pursue this, and when I look at my wife I feel this one is going to be a big one, almost like starting anew. Of course, honestly it is a big decision. It is easier to keep going here, renovating, building and expanding and continuing our research. Once you know that it is the right way to move forward even if it's risky you have to go with it. If we actually nail it, it's going to be amazing.

What is planned for this present space of Noma?
We don't really know, but we are probably going to let it go.

When do you begin construction at the new location?

Right now it's still that derelict building and we are in the process of going through the last touches with the architect and the authorities. In this project we are not going to be as green and inexperienced as our first project but we are never the less taking away the last six or seven years of growth and development.

The new project will be a restaurant on a farm?
It will be a city farm, based in seasonality and cooking meals based on that aspect during the year. The same quality and standards will be maintained while we cook based on the seasons. We will cook with ingredients from the ocean and then from the plant kingdom, where guests will not miss a single bite of protein, and then focus on the wild food in the next season. I think personally that we will become much better than what we are now.

You do realize that whatever path you choose, many others will follow you all over the world? Do you have a sense of responsibility?
Right now yes people will follow and of course there is a realization about that. I feel we are very good in communicating our ideas and expressing what is going on and we try not to keep anything secret. I think the future is sharing and building of small networks and communities that in turn belong to a larger community. We are part of a community, people come to MAD and become friends, become connected in a big community of chefs that are pushing forward and trying to be there for each other. And truly we are really doing this here.


René Redzepi on Noma’s last supper – and what comes next

O n the night in 2009 when his restaurant reached No 3 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, René Redzepi’s thoughts turned to aviation. “It was a great moment,” he recalls. “But it also felt like that moment when you’re on a plane after it takes off, and you’re at 10,000 feet, and you’re wondering, is this where we level off? Or are we going to start climbing again?”

As it turned out, the climb for Noma had hardly begun: in the coming years, the restaurant would top the list four times, and Redzepi would launch several projects that would, in important ways, change the very nature of being a chef. But seven years, three international pop-ups, and one momentous decision later, the question remains as relevant to him as ever. René Redzepi is still wondering about the climb.

In February, Noma will serve its last meal. A little over a month later, the restaurant’s entire staff will move to the Mexican resort town of Tulum to open an outdoor restaurant – temporarily – deep in the jungle. For seven weeks they will serve Noma’s interpretation of tacos and mole to the hundreds of patrons who snatched up every ticket within a day of them going on sale. Then, in June, they will return to Copenhagen, and if all goes as planned, they will open a new, cutting-edge restaurant called Noma.

It would be easy to mistake as raw ambition the impulses that lead Redzepi to these kind of outsized exercises, much as it is easy to mistake the $600 a head (before tax and tip) tab for dinner at the Mexico pop-up as greed. But to a degree remarkable among those with access to such opportunities, he is not driven by a desire for fame or money. It is more like restlessness – a deep, nearly primal desire to keep moving forward, evolving, improving. It’s as if he is anaphylactically allergic to stasis.

On a rare sunny November morning in Copenhagen, Redzepi is, however, momentarily seated. He is drinking tea at 108, the new Noma-owned restaurant run by chef Kristian Baumann. Earlier in the week, he had learned that the city had finally granted all the building permits for the new Noma – so long as they agreed to shift the location by two metres. He had also learned that a potential sponsor for the Mexico pop-up was having second thoughts, which meant the restaurant was going to have to fund the endeavour, including the cost of flying and housing its staff, by itself.

“It’s so stressful,” Redzepi admits. “I want to abort once a month. But then I remember: we can’t. We’re six months pregnant.”

He means that metaphorically: the thing he will be giving birth to is not a child (though he would like to add another to the three he and his wife Nadine have) but a reinvented restaurant. And he has faced intense pressure in the past, and managed to harness his restlessness like some kind of renewable energy in order to power through it. But though the stakes were high before, they were nothing like this. If the comparison to giving birth makes sense, it’s because this time, Noma’s reinvention is about legacy.

Legacy is an unlikely thing for a 39-year-old to be thinking about. But you could say that Redzepi has been at it his entire career, ever since culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer went looking for a chef to head his new restaurant. At the time, fine dining in Denmark meant French cuisine, but Meyer’s vision was to show Danes that a restaurant could cook deliciously with ingredients from their own backyard. He found the 23-year-old Redzepi, recently graduated from apprenticeships at the French Laundry in California and elBulli in Spain, who signed on for what was supposed to be a simple restaurant, without Michelin-level ambition. Redzepi’s recollection of opening night reveals its modest aims. “I wasn’t nervous,” he says, “because I didn’t think we were doing anything new. We were just opening a restaurant.”

A tour of the region taught him about its possibilities. Redzepi learned he could substitute vinegar for citrus, seaweed for leafy greens. Soon it became an ambition, this quest for new ingredients and flavours. When a Swedish forager in wellies showed up at his kitchen with a sack of beach herbs, Redzepi saw the runway before him.

Instead of simply bringing in Nordic ingredients for French ones, he began rethinking what an ingredient was. He and his brigade learned to forage, bringing back wild plants and, eventually, insects that augmented the arsenal of flavours available to a kitchen devoted like none before it to understanding its terroir. Gradually, the kitchen also turned to older techniques like smoking, pickling and fermenting that were indigenous to the region.

The immediate response was sceptical, to put it mildly. Locally, Noma was either dismissed or mocked (as Redzepi still loves to recount, they were accused of doing unprintable things to seals). But it made them see themselves as scrappy underdogs. When Noma began to receive positive attention abroad, they weren’t sure they could trust it, and kept working.

Their reputation grew. The style of cooking Noma was developing – a naturalistic expression of time and place that became known as “new Nordic” – seemed the antithesis of the Spanish pyrotechnics that then dominated the gastronomic scene. “Before that, the world’s most notable restaurants all began with El and Le and La,” recalls Kate Krader, food and drinks editor of Bloomberg Pursuits. “Noma almost singlehandedly took the spotlight and shone it on northern Europe. It’s not that Noma discovered nature – Ferran and Albert [Adrià] had highlighted it at elBulli – but René sort of emerged from the Nordic woods with a clutch of mushrooms and a duck-hunting knife and put Copenhagen and Nordic cooking on the map.”

As Noma picked up accolades (two Michelin stars in 2008 the top slot on the World’s 50 Best list a couple of years later), its success inspired others in the region to pay attention to their landscape. Maintaining to varying degrees the geographic limitations that Redzepi had imposed on himself, restaurants like Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Dill in Reykjavik and Maaemo in Oslo also became identified with the Nordic trend. “They put the spotlight on the fact that there could be great restaurants in a region that was previously uncharted, gastronomically speaking. And that led to more,” says Magnus Nilsson, chef of the highly acclaimed Fäviken in northern Sweden. “I can’t definitely say that I wouldn’t have opened Fäviken without Noma, but it would have been harder. I wouldn’t have made the decision when and how I did.”

Noma’s kitchen became a magnet for young chefs from around the world eager to learn the new style. Isaac McHale, head chef of the Clove Club, can still tick off the impressive names in the kitchen when he did his apprenticeship at Noma in 2007: Christian Puglisi, Torsten Vildgaard, Daniel Burns, Ben Greeno, Jon Tam, Sam Miller, Brad McDonald. “The team when I was there was like the Harlem Globetrotters,” McHale recalls. “They’ve all gone on to do great things.”

Noma’s apple of the season with oxalis, paste of fermented black apple and elderflower oil. Photograph: Ty Stange/The Observer

“New Nordic” even moved outside the restaurant. It wasn’t long after Noma began using Icelandic cultured milk in its kitchen, for example, that skyr began showing up in Danish supermarkets. These days, sea buckthorn can be found in everything from ice-cream to shampoo.

In Copenhagen especially, the effect was profound. The city’s restaurant scene expanded as Noma alumni graduated, opening ambitious places including Puglisi’s Relae and Matt Orlando’s Amass, quirky ones – Victor Wagman and Sam Nutter’s offal-friendly Bror, and casual spots such as Rosio Sanchez’s taco stand Hija de Sanchez. Though a mere decade earlier the city was seen as a culinary Siberia, Copenhagen became a foodie destination nearly as alluring as Barcelona or Paris. “That’s something I’m really proud of,” Redzepi says. “That we created a community.”

He was creating more than that. A New York Times op-ed here, an invitation to Davos there and, slowly, Redzepi began – like other well-known chefs in our food-obsessed age – to wield greater public influence. He was still in the kitchen, overseeing service and approving the recipes that flowed from Noma’s test kitchen and fermentation lab. And he remained sceptical of fame: “I say to my staff that it’s a loan, and one day you have to give it back.” But he also began speaking publicly about his desire to leave the profession better than he found it.

In 2011, he and his team launched Mad [Danish for food], a symposium that brought chefs together to talk about how they might make their industry and, not incidentally, the world better places. Every aspect of the conference, down to the soundboard, was run by Noma staff, and their palpable commitment was as important to the symposium’s success as it was at the restaurant. “Every single time I was at Noma I felt it,” says Nilsson. “There was a sense of momentum, the energy of everyone together, going forward.”

Until there wasn’t. Four years after the aeroplane metaphor came to Redzepi, he faced the real possibility of levelling off, or worse, of falling – 2013 was Noma’s annus horribilis. In February, norovirus sickened 63 Noma diners and set off spasms of media schadenfreude around the globe. In April, the restaurant fell to second place on the World’s 50 Best list. It had only recently recovered from a bout with near-bankruptcy, and Redzepi’s relationship with Meyer, which had been difficult for some time, was becoming untenable. “That’s the fear,” he says. “That you’re going to lose it all.”

So much of Redzepi’s drive is born of it: the fear that – whether abruptly in the form of a terrible review, or agonisingly, as the food world’s attention turns to the next big thing – it could all disappear. It is there, palpable, when he chews out a stagiaire for being anything less than perfect, and there too when he squirms over a blogger’s negative comment. In 2013, the fear almost, in his mind, became reality. So he did the only thing he could do: he unleashed his restlessness.


René Redzepi on Noma’s last supper – and what comes next

O n the night in 2009 when his restaurant reached No 3 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, René Redzepi’s thoughts turned to aviation. “It was a great moment,” he recalls. “But it also felt like that moment when you’re on a plane after it takes off, and you’re at 10,000 feet, and you’re wondering, is this where we level off? Or are we going to start climbing again?”

As it turned out, the climb for Noma had hardly begun: in the coming years, the restaurant would top the list four times, and Redzepi would launch several projects that would, in important ways, change the very nature of being a chef. But seven years, three international pop-ups, and one momentous decision later, the question remains as relevant to him as ever. René Redzepi is still wondering about the climb.

In February, Noma will serve its last meal. A little over a month later, the restaurant’s entire staff will move to the Mexican resort town of Tulum to open an outdoor restaurant – temporarily – deep in the jungle. For seven weeks they will serve Noma’s interpretation of tacos and mole to the hundreds of patrons who snatched up every ticket within a day of them going on sale. Then, in June, they will return to Copenhagen, and if all goes as planned, they will open a new, cutting-edge restaurant called Noma.

It would be easy to mistake as raw ambition the impulses that lead Redzepi to these kind of outsized exercises, much as it is easy to mistake the $600 a head (before tax and tip) tab for dinner at the Mexico pop-up as greed. But to a degree remarkable among those with access to such opportunities, he is not driven by a desire for fame or money. It is more like restlessness – a deep, nearly primal desire to keep moving forward, evolving, improving. It’s as if he is anaphylactically allergic to stasis.

On a rare sunny November morning in Copenhagen, Redzepi is, however, momentarily seated. He is drinking tea at 108, the new Noma-owned restaurant run by chef Kristian Baumann. Earlier in the week, he had learned that the city had finally granted all the building permits for the new Noma – so long as they agreed to shift the location by two metres. He had also learned that a potential sponsor for the Mexico pop-up was having second thoughts, which meant the restaurant was going to have to fund the endeavour, including the cost of flying and housing its staff, by itself.

“It’s so stressful,” Redzepi admits. “I want to abort once a month. But then I remember: we can’t. We’re six months pregnant.”

He means that metaphorically: the thing he will be giving birth to is not a child (though he would like to add another to the three he and his wife Nadine have) but a reinvented restaurant. And he has faced intense pressure in the past, and managed to harness his restlessness like some kind of renewable energy in order to power through it. But though the stakes were high before, they were nothing like this. If the comparison to giving birth makes sense, it’s because this time, Noma’s reinvention is about legacy.

Legacy is an unlikely thing for a 39-year-old to be thinking about. But you could say that Redzepi has been at it his entire career, ever since culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer went looking for a chef to head his new restaurant. At the time, fine dining in Denmark meant French cuisine, but Meyer’s vision was to show Danes that a restaurant could cook deliciously with ingredients from their own backyard. He found the 23-year-old Redzepi, recently graduated from apprenticeships at the French Laundry in California and elBulli in Spain, who signed on for what was supposed to be a simple restaurant, without Michelin-level ambition. Redzepi’s recollection of opening night reveals its modest aims. “I wasn’t nervous,” he says, “because I didn’t think we were doing anything new. We were just opening a restaurant.”

A tour of the region taught him about its possibilities. Redzepi learned he could substitute vinegar for citrus, seaweed for leafy greens. Soon it became an ambition, this quest for new ingredients and flavours. When a Swedish forager in wellies showed up at his kitchen with a sack of beach herbs, Redzepi saw the runway before him.

Instead of simply bringing in Nordic ingredients for French ones, he began rethinking what an ingredient was. He and his brigade learned to forage, bringing back wild plants and, eventually, insects that augmented the arsenal of flavours available to a kitchen devoted like none before it to understanding its terroir. Gradually, the kitchen also turned to older techniques like smoking, pickling and fermenting that were indigenous to the region.

The immediate response was sceptical, to put it mildly. Locally, Noma was either dismissed or mocked (as Redzepi still loves to recount, they were accused of doing unprintable things to seals). But it made them see themselves as scrappy underdogs. When Noma began to receive positive attention abroad, they weren’t sure they could trust it, and kept working.

Their reputation grew. The style of cooking Noma was developing – a naturalistic expression of time and place that became known as “new Nordic” – seemed the antithesis of the Spanish pyrotechnics that then dominated the gastronomic scene. “Before that, the world’s most notable restaurants all began with El and Le and La,” recalls Kate Krader, food and drinks editor of Bloomberg Pursuits. “Noma almost singlehandedly took the spotlight and shone it on northern Europe. It’s not that Noma discovered nature – Ferran and Albert [Adrià] had highlighted it at elBulli – but René sort of emerged from the Nordic woods with a clutch of mushrooms and a duck-hunting knife and put Copenhagen and Nordic cooking on the map.”

As Noma picked up accolades (two Michelin stars in 2008 the top slot on the World’s 50 Best list a couple of years later), its success inspired others in the region to pay attention to their landscape. Maintaining to varying degrees the geographic limitations that Redzepi had imposed on himself, restaurants like Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Dill in Reykjavik and Maaemo in Oslo also became identified with the Nordic trend. “They put the spotlight on the fact that there could be great restaurants in a region that was previously uncharted, gastronomically speaking. And that led to more,” says Magnus Nilsson, chef of the highly acclaimed Fäviken in northern Sweden. “I can’t definitely say that I wouldn’t have opened Fäviken without Noma, but it would have been harder. I wouldn’t have made the decision when and how I did.”

Noma’s kitchen became a magnet for young chefs from around the world eager to learn the new style. Isaac McHale, head chef of the Clove Club, can still tick off the impressive names in the kitchen when he did his apprenticeship at Noma in 2007: Christian Puglisi, Torsten Vildgaard, Daniel Burns, Ben Greeno, Jon Tam, Sam Miller, Brad McDonald. “The team when I was there was like the Harlem Globetrotters,” McHale recalls. “They’ve all gone on to do great things.”

Noma’s apple of the season with oxalis, paste of fermented black apple and elderflower oil. Photograph: Ty Stange/The Observer

“New Nordic” even moved outside the restaurant. It wasn’t long after Noma began using Icelandic cultured milk in its kitchen, for example, that skyr began showing up in Danish supermarkets. These days, sea buckthorn can be found in everything from ice-cream to shampoo.

In Copenhagen especially, the effect was profound. The city’s restaurant scene expanded as Noma alumni graduated, opening ambitious places including Puglisi’s Relae and Matt Orlando’s Amass, quirky ones – Victor Wagman and Sam Nutter’s offal-friendly Bror, and casual spots such as Rosio Sanchez’s taco stand Hija de Sanchez. Though a mere decade earlier the city was seen as a culinary Siberia, Copenhagen became a foodie destination nearly as alluring as Barcelona or Paris. “That’s something I’m really proud of,” Redzepi says. “That we created a community.”

He was creating more than that. A New York Times op-ed here, an invitation to Davos there and, slowly, Redzepi began – like other well-known chefs in our food-obsessed age – to wield greater public influence. He was still in the kitchen, overseeing service and approving the recipes that flowed from Noma’s test kitchen and fermentation lab. And he remained sceptical of fame: “I say to my staff that it’s a loan, and one day you have to give it back.” But he also began speaking publicly about his desire to leave the profession better than he found it.

In 2011, he and his team launched Mad [Danish for food], a symposium that brought chefs together to talk about how they might make their industry and, not incidentally, the world better places. Every aspect of the conference, down to the soundboard, was run by Noma staff, and their palpable commitment was as important to the symposium’s success as it was at the restaurant. “Every single time I was at Noma I felt it,” says Nilsson. “There was a sense of momentum, the energy of everyone together, going forward.”

Until there wasn’t. Four years after the aeroplane metaphor came to Redzepi, he faced the real possibility of levelling off, or worse, of falling – 2013 was Noma’s annus horribilis. In February, norovirus sickened 63 Noma diners and set off spasms of media schadenfreude around the globe. In April, the restaurant fell to second place on the World’s 50 Best list. It had only recently recovered from a bout with near-bankruptcy, and Redzepi’s relationship with Meyer, which had been difficult for some time, was becoming untenable. “That’s the fear,” he says. “That you’re going to lose it all.”

So much of Redzepi’s drive is born of it: the fear that – whether abruptly in the form of a terrible review, or agonisingly, as the food world’s attention turns to the next big thing – it could all disappear. It is there, palpable, when he chews out a stagiaire for being anything less than perfect, and there too when he squirms over a blogger’s negative comment. In 2013, the fear almost, in his mind, became reality. So he did the only thing he could do: he unleashed his restlessness.


René Redzepi on Noma’s last supper – and what comes next

O n the night in 2009 when his restaurant reached No 3 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, René Redzepi’s thoughts turned to aviation. “It was a great moment,” he recalls. “But it also felt like that moment when you’re on a plane after it takes off, and you’re at 10,000 feet, and you’re wondering, is this where we level off? Or are we going to start climbing again?”

As it turned out, the climb for Noma had hardly begun: in the coming years, the restaurant would top the list four times, and Redzepi would launch several projects that would, in important ways, change the very nature of being a chef. But seven years, three international pop-ups, and one momentous decision later, the question remains as relevant to him as ever. René Redzepi is still wondering about the climb.

In February, Noma will serve its last meal. A little over a month later, the restaurant’s entire staff will move to the Mexican resort town of Tulum to open an outdoor restaurant – temporarily – deep in the jungle. For seven weeks they will serve Noma’s interpretation of tacos and mole to the hundreds of patrons who snatched up every ticket within a day of them going on sale. Then, in June, they will return to Copenhagen, and if all goes as planned, they will open a new, cutting-edge restaurant called Noma.

It would be easy to mistake as raw ambition the impulses that lead Redzepi to these kind of outsized exercises, much as it is easy to mistake the $600 a head (before tax and tip) tab for dinner at the Mexico pop-up as greed. But to a degree remarkable among those with access to such opportunities, he is not driven by a desire for fame or money. It is more like restlessness – a deep, nearly primal desire to keep moving forward, evolving, improving. It’s as if he is anaphylactically allergic to stasis.

On a rare sunny November morning in Copenhagen, Redzepi is, however, momentarily seated. He is drinking tea at 108, the new Noma-owned restaurant run by chef Kristian Baumann. Earlier in the week, he had learned that the city had finally granted all the building permits for the new Noma – so long as they agreed to shift the location by two metres. He had also learned that a potential sponsor for the Mexico pop-up was having second thoughts, which meant the restaurant was going to have to fund the endeavour, including the cost of flying and housing its staff, by itself.

“It’s so stressful,” Redzepi admits. “I want to abort once a month. But then I remember: we can’t. We’re six months pregnant.”

He means that metaphorically: the thing he will be giving birth to is not a child (though he would like to add another to the three he and his wife Nadine have) but a reinvented restaurant. And he has faced intense pressure in the past, and managed to harness his restlessness like some kind of renewable energy in order to power through it. But though the stakes were high before, they were nothing like this. If the comparison to giving birth makes sense, it’s because this time, Noma’s reinvention is about legacy.

Legacy is an unlikely thing for a 39-year-old to be thinking about. But you could say that Redzepi has been at it his entire career, ever since culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer went looking for a chef to head his new restaurant. At the time, fine dining in Denmark meant French cuisine, but Meyer’s vision was to show Danes that a restaurant could cook deliciously with ingredients from their own backyard. He found the 23-year-old Redzepi, recently graduated from apprenticeships at the French Laundry in California and elBulli in Spain, who signed on for what was supposed to be a simple restaurant, without Michelin-level ambition. Redzepi’s recollection of opening night reveals its modest aims. “I wasn’t nervous,” he says, “because I didn’t think we were doing anything new. We were just opening a restaurant.”

A tour of the region taught him about its possibilities. Redzepi learned he could substitute vinegar for citrus, seaweed for leafy greens. Soon it became an ambition, this quest for new ingredients and flavours. When a Swedish forager in wellies showed up at his kitchen with a sack of beach herbs, Redzepi saw the runway before him.

Instead of simply bringing in Nordic ingredients for French ones, he began rethinking what an ingredient was. He and his brigade learned to forage, bringing back wild plants and, eventually, insects that augmented the arsenal of flavours available to a kitchen devoted like none before it to understanding its terroir. Gradually, the kitchen also turned to older techniques like smoking, pickling and fermenting that were indigenous to the region.

The immediate response was sceptical, to put it mildly. Locally, Noma was either dismissed or mocked (as Redzepi still loves to recount, they were accused of doing unprintable things to seals). But it made them see themselves as scrappy underdogs. When Noma began to receive positive attention abroad, they weren’t sure they could trust it, and kept working.

Their reputation grew. The style of cooking Noma was developing – a naturalistic expression of time and place that became known as “new Nordic” – seemed the antithesis of the Spanish pyrotechnics that then dominated the gastronomic scene. “Before that, the world’s most notable restaurants all began with El and Le and La,” recalls Kate Krader, food and drinks editor of Bloomberg Pursuits. “Noma almost singlehandedly took the spotlight and shone it on northern Europe. It’s not that Noma discovered nature – Ferran and Albert [Adrià] had highlighted it at elBulli – but René sort of emerged from the Nordic woods with a clutch of mushrooms and a duck-hunting knife and put Copenhagen and Nordic cooking on the map.”

As Noma picked up accolades (two Michelin stars in 2008 the top slot on the World’s 50 Best list a couple of years later), its success inspired others in the region to pay attention to their landscape. Maintaining to varying degrees the geographic limitations that Redzepi had imposed on himself, restaurants like Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Dill in Reykjavik and Maaemo in Oslo also became identified with the Nordic trend. “They put the spotlight on the fact that there could be great restaurants in a region that was previously uncharted, gastronomically speaking. And that led to more,” says Magnus Nilsson, chef of the highly acclaimed Fäviken in northern Sweden. “I can’t definitely say that I wouldn’t have opened Fäviken without Noma, but it would have been harder. I wouldn’t have made the decision when and how I did.”

Noma’s kitchen became a magnet for young chefs from around the world eager to learn the new style. Isaac McHale, head chef of the Clove Club, can still tick off the impressive names in the kitchen when he did his apprenticeship at Noma in 2007: Christian Puglisi, Torsten Vildgaard, Daniel Burns, Ben Greeno, Jon Tam, Sam Miller, Brad McDonald. “The team when I was there was like the Harlem Globetrotters,” McHale recalls. “They’ve all gone on to do great things.”

Noma’s apple of the season with oxalis, paste of fermented black apple and elderflower oil. Photograph: Ty Stange/The Observer

“New Nordic” even moved outside the restaurant. It wasn’t long after Noma began using Icelandic cultured milk in its kitchen, for example, that skyr began showing up in Danish supermarkets. These days, sea buckthorn can be found in everything from ice-cream to shampoo.

In Copenhagen especially, the effect was profound. The city’s restaurant scene expanded as Noma alumni graduated, opening ambitious places including Puglisi’s Relae and Matt Orlando’s Amass, quirky ones – Victor Wagman and Sam Nutter’s offal-friendly Bror, and casual spots such as Rosio Sanchez’s taco stand Hija de Sanchez. Though a mere decade earlier the city was seen as a culinary Siberia, Copenhagen became a foodie destination nearly as alluring as Barcelona or Paris. “That’s something I’m really proud of,” Redzepi says. “That we created a community.”

He was creating more than that. A New York Times op-ed here, an invitation to Davos there and, slowly, Redzepi began – like other well-known chefs in our food-obsessed age – to wield greater public influence. He was still in the kitchen, overseeing service and approving the recipes that flowed from Noma’s test kitchen and fermentation lab. And he remained sceptical of fame: “I say to my staff that it’s a loan, and one day you have to give it back.” But he also began speaking publicly about his desire to leave the profession better than he found it.

In 2011, he and his team launched Mad [Danish for food], a symposium that brought chefs together to talk about how they might make their industry and, not incidentally, the world better places. Every aspect of the conference, down to the soundboard, was run by Noma staff, and their palpable commitment was as important to the symposium’s success as it was at the restaurant. “Every single time I was at Noma I felt it,” says Nilsson. “There was a sense of momentum, the energy of everyone together, going forward.”

Until there wasn’t. Four years after the aeroplane metaphor came to Redzepi, he faced the real possibility of levelling off, or worse, of falling – 2013 was Noma’s annus horribilis. In February, norovirus sickened 63 Noma diners and set off spasms of media schadenfreude around the globe. In April, the restaurant fell to second place on the World’s 50 Best list. It had only recently recovered from a bout with near-bankruptcy, and Redzepi’s relationship with Meyer, which had been difficult for some time, was becoming untenable. “That’s the fear,” he says. “That you’re going to lose it all.”

So much of Redzepi’s drive is born of it: the fear that – whether abruptly in the form of a terrible review, or agonisingly, as the food world’s attention turns to the next big thing – it could all disappear. It is there, palpable, when he chews out a stagiaire for being anything less than perfect, and there too when he squirms over a blogger’s negative comment. In 2013, the fear almost, in his mind, became reality. So he did the only thing he could do: he unleashed his restlessness.


René Redzepi on Noma’s last supper – and what comes next

O n the night in 2009 when his restaurant reached No 3 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, René Redzepi’s thoughts turned to aviation. “It was a great moment,” he recalls. “But it also felt like that moment when you’re on a plane after it takes off, and you’re at 10,000 feet, and you’re wondering, is this where we level off? Or are we going to start climbing again?”

As it turned out, the climb for Noma had hardly begun: in the coming years, the restaurant would top the list four times, and Redzepi would launch several projects that would, in important ways, change the very nature of being a chef. But seven years, three international pop-ups, and one momentous decision later, the question remains as relevant to him as ever. René Redzepi is still wondering about the climb.

In February, Noma will serve its last meal. A little over a month later, the restaurant’s entire staff will move to the Mexican resort town of Tulum to open an outdoor restaurant – temporarily – deep in the jungle. For seven weeks they will serve Noma’s interpretation of tacos and mole to the hundreds of patrons who snatched up every ticket within a day of them going on sale. Then, in June, they will return to Copenhagen, and if all goes as planned, they will open a new, cutting-edge restaurant called Noma.

It would be easy to mistake as raw ambition the impulses that lead Redzepi to these kind of outsized exercises, much as it is easy to mistake the $600 a head (before tax and tip) tab for dinner at the Mexico pop-up as greed. But to a degree remarkable among those with access to such opportunities, he is not driven by a desire for fame or money. It is more like restlessness – a deep, nearly primal desire to keep moving forward, evolving, improving. It’s as if he is anaphylactically allergic to stasis.

On a rare sunny November morning in Copenhagen, Redzepi is, however, momentarily seated. He is drinking tea at 108, the new Noma-owned restaurant run by chef Kristian Baumann. Earlier in the week, he had learned that the city had finally granted all the building permits for the new Noma – so long as they agreed to shift the location by two metres. He had also learned that a potential sponsor for the Mexico pop-up was having second thoughts, which meant the restaurant was going to have to fund the endeavour, including the cost of flying and housing its staff, by itself.

“It’s so stressful,” Redzepi admits. “I want to abort once a month. But then I remember: we can’t. We’re six months pregnant.”

He means that metaphorically: the thing he will be giving birth to is not a child (though he would like to add another to the three he and his wife Nadine have) but a reinvented restaurant. And he has faced intense pressure in the past, and managed to harness his restlessness like some kind of renewable energy in order to power through it. But though the stakes were high before, they were nothing like this. If the comparison to giving birth makes sense, it’s because this time, Noma’s reinvention is about legacy.

Legacy is an unlikely thing for a 39-year-old to be thinking about. But you could say that Redzepi has been at it his entire career, ever since culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer went looking for a chef to head his new restaurant. At the time, fine dining in Denmark meant French cuisine, but Meyer’s vision was to show Danes that a restaurant could cook deliciously with ingredients from their own backyard. He found the 23-year-old Redzepi, recently graduated from apprenticeships at the French Laundry in California and elBulli in Spain, who signed on for what was supposed to be a simple restaurant, without Michelin-level ambition. Redzepi’s recollection of opening night reveals its modest aims. “I wasn’t nervous,” he says, “because I didn’t think we were doing anything new. We were just opening a restaurant.”

A tour of the region taught him about its possibilities. Redzepi learned he could substitute vinegar for citrus, seaweed for leafy greens. Soon it became an ambition, this quest for new ingredients and flavours. When a Swedish forager in wellies showed up at his kitchen with a sack of beach herbs, Redzepi saw the runway before him.

Instead of simply bringing in Nordic ingredients for French ones, he began rethinking what an ingredient was. He and his brigade learned to forage, bringing back wild plants and, eventually, insects that augmented the arsenal of flavours available to a kitchen devoted like none before it to understanding its terroir. Gradually, the kitchen also turned to older techniques like smoking, pickling and fermenting that were indigenous to the region.

The immediate response was sceptical, to put it mildly. Locally, Noma was either dismissed or mocked (as Redzepi still loves to recount, they were accused of doing unprintable things to seals). But it made them see themselves as scrappy underdogs. When Noma began to receive positive attention abroad, they weren’t sure they could trust it, and kept working.

Their reputation grew. The style of cooking Noma was developing – a naturalistic expression of time and place that became known as “new Nordic” – seemed the antithesis of the Spanish pyrotechnics that then dominated the gastronomic scene. “Before that, the world’s most notable restaurants all began with El and Le and La,” recalls Kate Krader, food and drinks editor of Bloomberg Pursuits. “Noma almost singlehandedly took the spotlight and shone it on northern Europe. It’s not that Noma discovered nature – Ferran and Albert [Adrià] had highlighted it at elBulli – but René sort of emerged from the Nordic woods with a clutch of mushrooms and a duck-hunting knife and put Copenhagen and Nordic cooking on the map.”

As Noma picked up accolades (two Michelin stars in 2008 the top slot on the World’s 50 Best list a couple of years later), its success inspired others in the region to pay attention to their landscape. Maintaining to varying degrees the geographic limitations that Redzepi had imposed on himself, restaurants like Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Dill in Reykjavik and Maaemo in Oslo also became identified with the Nordic trend. “They put the spotlight on the fact that there could be great restaurants in a region that was previously uncharted, gastronomically speaking. And that led to more,” says Magnus Nilsson, chef of the highly acclaimed Fäviken in northern Sweden. “I can’t definitely say that I wouldn’t have opened Fäviken without Noma, but it would have been harder. I wouldn’t have made the decision when and how I did.”

Noma’s kitchen became a magnet for young chefs from around the world eager to learn the new style. Isaac McHale, head chef of the Clove Club, can still tick off the impressive names in the kitchen when he did his apprenticeship at Noma in 2007: Christian Puglisi, Torsten Vildgaard, Daniel Burns, Ben Greeno, Jon Tam, Sam Miller, Brad McDonald. “The team when I was there was like the Harlem Globetrotters,” McHale recalls. “They’ve all gone on to do great things.”

Noma’s apple of the season with oxalis, paste of fermented black apple and elderflower oil. Photograph: Ty Stange/The Observer

“New Nordic” even moved outside the restaurant. It wasn’t long after Noma began using Icelandic cultured milk in its kitchen, for example, that skyr began showing up in Danish supermarkets. These days, sea buckthorn can be found in everything from ice-cream to shampoo.

In Copenhagen especially, the effect was profound. The city’s restaurant scene expanded as Noma alumni graduated, opening ambitious places including Puglisi’s Relae and Matt Orlando’s Amass, quirky ones – Victor Wagman and Sam Nutter’s offal-friendly Bror, and casual spots such as Rosio Sanchez’s taco stand Hija de Sanchez. Though a mere decade earlier the city was seen as a culinary Siberia, Copenhagen became a foodie destination nearly as alluring as Barcelona or Paris. “That’s something I’m really proud of,” Redzepi says. “That we created a community.”

He was creating more than that. A New York Times op-ed here, an invitation to Davos there and, slowly, Redzepi began – like other well-known chefs in our food-obsessed age – to wield greater public influence. He was still in the kitchen, overseeing service and approving the recipes that flowed from Noma’s test kitchen and fermentation lab. And he remained sceptical of fame: “I say to my staff that it’s a loan, and one day you have to give it back.” But he also began speaking publicly about his desire to leave the profession better than he found it.

In 2011, he and his team launched Mad [Danish for food], a symposium that brought chefs together to talk about how they might make their industry and, not incidentally, the world better places. Every aspect of the conference, down to the soundboard, was run by Noma staff, and their palpable commitment was as important to the symposium’s success as it was at the restaurant. “Every single time I was at Noma I felt it,” says Nilsson. “There was a sense of momentum, the energy of everyone together, going forward.”

Until there wasn’t. Four years after the aeroplane metaphor came to Redzepi, he faced the real possibility of levelling off, or worse, of falling – 2013 was Noma’s annus horribilis. In February, norovirus sickened 63 Noma diners and set off spasms of media schadenfreude around the globe. In April, the restaurant fell to second place on the World’s 50 Best list. It had only recently recovered from a bout with near-bankruptcy, and Redzepi’s relationship with Meyer, which had been difficult for some time, was becoming untenable. “That’s the fear,” he says. “That you’re going to lose it all.”

So much of Redzepi’s drive is born of it: the fear that – whether abruptly in the form of a terrible review, or agonisingly, as the food world’s attention turns to the next big thing – it could all disappear. It is there, palpable, when he chews out a stagiaire for being anything less than perfect, and there too when he squirms over a blogger’s negative comment. In 2013, the fear almost, in his mind, became reality. So he did the only thing he could do: he unleashed his restlessness.


René Redzepi on Noma’s last supper – and what comes next

O n the night in 2009 when his restaurant reached No 3 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, René Redzepi’s thoughts turned to aviation. “It was a great moment,” he recalls. “But it also felt like that moment when you’re on a plane after it takes off, and you’re at 10,000 feet, and you’re wondering, is this where we level off? Or are we going to start climbing again?”

As it turned out, the climb for Noma had hardly begun: in the coming years, the restaurant would top the list four times, and Redzepi would launch several projects that would, in important ways, change the very nature of being a chef. But seven years, three international pop-ups, and one momentous decision later, the question remains as relevant to him as ever. René Redzepi is still wondering about the climb.

In February, Noma will serve its last meal. A little over a month later, the restaurant’s entire staff will move to the Mexican resort town of Tulum to open an outdoor restaurant – temporarily – deep in the jungle. For seven weeks they will serve Noma’s interpretation of tacos and mole to the hundreds of patrons who snatched up every ticket within a day of them going on sale. Then, in June, they will return to Copenhagen, and if all goes as planned, they will open a new, cutting-edge restaurant called Noma.

It would be easy to mistake as raw ambition the impulses that lead Redzepi to these kind of outsized exercises, much as it is easy to mistake the $600 a head (before tax and tip) tab for dinner at the Mexico pop-up as greed. But to a degree remarkable among those with access to such opportunities, he is not driven by a desire for fame or money. It is more like restlessness – a deep, nearly primal desire to keep moving forward, evolving, improving. It’s as if he is anaphylactically allergic to stasis.

On a rare sunny November morning in Copenhagen, Redzepi is, however, momentarily seated. He is drinking tea at 108, the new Noma-owned restaurant run by chef Kristian Baumann. Earlier in the week, he had learned that the city had finally granted all the building permits for the new Noma – so long as they agreed to shift the location by two metres. He had also learned that a potential sponsor for the Mexico pop-up was having second thoughts, which meant the restaurant was going to have to fund the endeavour, including the cost of flying and housing its staff, by itself.

“It’s so stressful,” Redzepi admits. “I want to abort once a month. But then I remember: we can’t. We’re six months pregnant.”

He means that metaphorically: the thing he will be giving birth to is not a child (though he would like to add another to the three he and his wife Nadine have) but a reinvented restaurant. And he has faced intense pressure in the past, and managed to harness his restlessness like some kind of renewable energy in order to power through it. But though the stakes were high before, they were nothing like this. If the comparison to giving birth makes sense, it’s because this time, Noma’s reinvention is about legacy.

Legacy is an unlikely thing for a 39-year-old to be thinking about. But you could say that Redzepi has been at it his entire career, ever since culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer went looking for a chef to head his new restaurant. At the time, fine dining in Denmark meant French cuisine, but Meyer’s vision was to show Danes that a restaurant could cook deliciously with ingredients from their own backyard. He found the 23-year-old Redzepi, recently graduated from apprenticeships at the French Laundry in California and elBulli in Spain, who signed on for what was supposed to be a simple restaurant, without Michelin-level ambition. Redzepi’s recollection of opening night reveals its modest aims. “I wasn’t nervous,” he says, “because I didn’t think we were doing anything new. We were just opening a restaurant.”

A tour of the region taught him about its possibilities. Redzepi learned he could substitute vinegar for citrus, seaweed for leafy greens. Soon it became an ambition, this quest for new ingredients and flavours. When a Swedish forager in wellies showed up at his kitchen with a sack of beach herbs, Redzepi saw the runway before him.

Instead of simply bringing in Nordic ingredients for French ones, he began rethinking what an ingredient was. He and his brigade learned to forage, bringing back wild plants and, eventually, insects that augmented the arsenal of flavours available to a kitchen devoted like none before it to understanding its terroir. Gradually, the kitchen also turned to older techniques like smoking, pickling and fermenting that were indigenous to the region.

The immediate response was sceptical, to put it mildly. Locally, Noma was either dismissed or mocked (as Redzepi still loves to recount, they were accused of doing unprintable things to seals). But it made them see themselves as scrappy underdogs. When Noma began to receive positive attention abroad, they weren’t sure they could trust it, and kept working.

Their reputation grew. The style of cooking Noma was developing – a naturalistic expression of time and place that became known as “new Nordic” – seemed the antithesis of the Spanish pyrotechnics that then dominated the gastronomic scene. “Before that, the world’s most notable restaurants all began with El and Le and La,” recalls Kate Krader, food and drinks editor of Bloomberg Pursuits. “Noma almost singlehandedly took the spotlight and shone it on northern Europe. It’s not that Noma discovered nature – Ferran and Albert [Adrià] had highlighted it at elBulli – but René sort of emerged from the Nordic woods with a clutch of mushrooms and a duck-hunting knife and put Copenhagen and Nordic cooking on the map.”

As Noma picked up accolades (two Michelin stars in 2008 the top slot on the World’s 50 Best list a couple of years later), its success inspired others in the region to pay attention to their landscape. Maintaining to varying degrees the geographic limitations that Redzepi had imposed on himself, restaurants like Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Dill in Reykjavik and Maaemo in Oslo also became identified with the Nordic trend. “They put the spotlight on the fact that there could be great restaurants in a region that was previously uncharted, gastronomically speaking. And that led to more,” says Magnus Nilsson, chef of the highly acclaimed Fäviken in northern Sweden. “I can’t definitely say that I wouldn’t have opened Fäviken without Noma, but it would have been harder. I wouldn’t have made the decision when and how I did.”

Noma’s kitchen became a magnet for young chefs from around the world eager to learn the new style. Isaac McHale, head chef of the Clove Club, can still tick off the impressive names in the kitchen when he did his apprenticeship at Noma in 2007: Christian Puglisi, Torsten Vildgaard, Daniel Burns, Ben Greeno, Jon Tam, Sam Miller, Brad McDonald. “The team when I was there was like the Harlem Globetrotters,” McHale recalls. “They’ve all gone on to do great things.”

Noma’s apple of the season with oxalis, paste of fermented black apple and elderflower oil. Photograph: Ty Stange/The Observer

“New Nordic” even moved outside the restaurant. It wasn’t long after Noma began using Icelandic cultured milk in its kitchen, for example, that skyr began showing up in Danish supermarkets. These days, sea buckthorn can be found in everything from ice-cream to shampoo.

In Copenhagen especially, the effect was profound. The city’s restaurant scene expanded as Noma alumni graduated, opening ambitious places including Puglisi’s Relae and Matt Orlando’s Amass, quirky ones – Victor Wagman and Sam Nutter’s offal-friendly Bror, and casual spots such as Rosio Sanchez’s taco stand Hija de Sanchez. Though a mere decade earlier the city was seen as a culinary Siberia, Copenhagen became a foodie destination nearly as alluring as Barcelona or Paris. “That’s something I’m really proud of,” Redzepi says. “That we created a community.”

He was creating more than that. A New York Times op-ed here, an invitation to Davos there and, slowly, Redzepi began – like other well-known chefs in our food-obsessed age – to wield greater public influence. He was still in the kitchen, overseeing service and approving the recipes that flowed from Noma’s test kitchen and fermentation lab. And he remained sceptical of fame: “I say to my staff that it’s a loan, and one day you have to give it back.” But he also began speaking publicly about his desire to leave the profession better than he found it.

In 2011, he and his team launched Mad [Danish for food], a symposium that brought chefs together to talk about how they might make their industry and, not incidentally, the world better places. Every aspect of the conference, down to the soundboard, was run by Noma staff, and their palpable commitment was as important to the symposium’s success as it was at the restaurant. “Every single time I was at Noma I felt it,” says Nilsson. “There was a sense of momentum, the energy of everyone together, going forward.”

Until there wasn’t. Four years after the aeroplane metaphor came to Redzepi, he faced the real possibility of levelling off, or worse, of falling – 2013 was Noma’s annus horribilis. In February, norovirus sickened 63 Noma diners and set off spasms of media schadenfreude around the globe. In April, the restaurant fell to second place on the World’s 50 Best list. It had only recently recovered from a bout with near-bankruptcy, and Redzepi’s relationship with Meyer, which had been difficult for some time, was becoming untenable. “That’s the fear,” he says. “That you’re going to lose it all.”

So much of Redzepi’s drive is born of it: the fear that – whether abruptly in the form of a terrible review, or agonisingly, as the food world’s attention turns to the next big thing – it could all disappear. It is there, palpable, when he chews out a stagiaire for being anything less than perfect, and there too when he squirms over a blogger’s negative comment. In 2013, the fear almost, in his mind, became reality. So he did the only thing he could do: he unleashed his restlessness.


René Redzepi on Noma’s last supper – and what comes next

O n the night in 2009 when his restaurant reached No 3 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, René Redzepi’s thoughts turned to aviation. “It was a great moment,” he recalls. “But it also felt like that moment when you’re on a plane after it takes off, and you’re at 10,000 feet, and you’re wondering, is this where we level off? Or are we going to start climbing again?”

As it turned out, the climb for Noma had hardly begun: in the coming years, the restaurant would top the list four times, and Redzepi would launch several projects that would, in important ways, change the very nature of being a chef. But seven years, three international pop-ups, and one momentous decision later, the question remains as relevant to him as ever. René Redzepi is still wondering about the climb.

In February, Noma will serve its last meal. A little over a month later, the restaurant’s entire staff will move to the Mexican resort town of Tulum to open an outdoor restaurant – temporarily – deep in the jungle. For seven weeks they will serve Noma’s interpretation of tacos and mole to the hundreds of patrons who snatched up every ticket within a day of them going on sale. Then, in June, they will return to Copenhagen, and if all goes as planned, they will open a new, cutting-edge restaurant called Noma.

It would be easy to mistake as raw ambition the impulses that lead Redzepi to these kind of outsized exercises, much as it is easy to mistake the $600 a head (before tax and tip) tab for dinner at the Mexico pop-up as greed. But to a degree remarkable among those with access to such opportunities, he is not driven by a desire for fame or money. It is more like restlessness – a deep, nearly primal desire to keep moving forward, evolving, improving. It’s as if he is anaphylactically allergic to stasis.

On a rare sunny November morning in Copenhagen, Redzepi is, however, momentarily seated. He is drinking tea at 108, the new Noma-owned restaurant run by chef Kristian Baumann. Earlier in the week, he had learned that the city had finally granted all the building permits for the new Noma – so long as they agreed to shift the location by two metres. He had also learned that a potential sponsor for the Mexico pop-up was having second thoughts, which meant the restaurant was going to have to fund the endeavour, including the cost of flying and housing its staff, by itself.

“It’s so stressful,” Redzepi admits. “I want to abort once a month. But then I remember: we can’t. We’re six months pregnant.”

He means that metaphorically: the thing he will be giving birth to is not a child (though he would like to add another to the three he and his wife Nadine have) but a reinvented restaurant. And he has faced intense pressure in the past, and managed to harness his restlessness like some kind of renewable energy in order to power through it. But though the stakes were high before, they were nothing like this. If the comparison to giving birth makes sense, it’s because this time, Noma’s reinvention is about legacy.

Legacy is an unlikely thing for a 39-year-old to be thinking about. But you could say that Redzepi has been at it his entire career, ever since culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer went looking for a chef to head his new restaurant. At the time, fine dining in Denmark meant French cuisine, but Meyer’s vision was to show Danes that a restaurant could cook deliciously with ingredients from their own backyard. He found the 23-year-old Redzepi, recently graduated from apprenticeships at the French Laundry in California and elBulli in Spain, who signed on for what was supposed to be a simple restaurant, without Michelin-level ambition. Redzepi’s recollection of opening night reveals its modest aims. “I wasn’t nervous,” he says, “because I didn’t think we were doing anything new. We were just opening a restaurant.”

A tour of the region taught him about its possibilities. Redzepi learned he could substitute vinegar for citrus, seaweed for leafy greens. Soon it became an ambition, this quest for new ingredients and flavours. When a Swedish forager in wellies showed up at his kitchen with a sack of beach herbs, Redzepi saw the runway before him.

Instead of simply bringing in Nordic ingredients for French ones, he began rethinking what an ingredient was. He and his brigade learned to forage, bringing back wild plants and, eventually, insects that augmented the arsenal of flavours available to a kitchen devoted like none before it to understanding its terroir. Gradually, the kitchen also turned to older techniques like smoking, pickling and fermenting that were indigenous to the region.

The immediate response was sceptical, to put it mildly. Locally, Noma was either dismissed or mocked (as Redzepi still loves to recount, they were accused of doing unprintable things to seals). But it made them see themselves as scrappy underdogs. When Noma began to receive positive attention abroad, they weren’t sure they could trust it, and kept working.

Their reputation grew. The style of cooking Noma was developing – a naturalistic expression of time and place that became known as “new Nordic” – seemed the antithesis of the Spanish pyrotechnics that then dominated the gastronomic scene. “Before that, the world’s most notable restaurants all began with El and Le and La,” recalls Kate Krader, food and drinks editor of Bloomberg Pursuits. “Noma almost singlehandedly took the spotlight and shone it on northern Europe. It’s not that Noma discovered nature – Ferran and Albert [Adrià] had highlighted it at elBulli – but René sort of emerged from the Nordic woods with a clutch of mushrooms and a duck-hunting knife and put Copenhagen and Nordic cooking on the map.”

As Noma picked up accolades (two Michelin stars in 2008 the top slot on the World’s 50 Best list a couple of years later), its success inspired others in the region to pay attention to their landscape. Maintaining to varying degrees the geographic limitations that Redzepi had imposed on himself, restaurants like Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Dill in Reykjavik and Maaemo in Oslo also became identified with the Nordic trend. “They put the spotlight on the fact that there could be great restaurants in a region that was previously uncharted, gastronomically speaking. And that led to more,” says Magnus Nilsson, chef of the highly acclaimed Fäviken in northern Sweden. “I can’t definitely say that I wouldn’t have opened Fäviken without Noma, but it would have been harder. I wouldn’t have made the decision when and how I did.”

Noma’s kitchen became a magnet for young chefs from around the world eager to learn the new style. Isaac McHale, head chef of the Clove Club, can still tick off the impressive names in the kitchen when he did his apprenticeship at Noma in 2007: Christian Puglisi, Torsten Vildgaard, Daniel Burns, Ben Greeno, Jon Tam, Sam Miller, Brad McDonald. “The team when I was there was like the Harlem Globetrotters,” McHale recalls. “They’ve all gone on to do great things.”

Noma’s apple of the season with oxalis, paste of fermented black apple and elderflower oil. Photograph: Ty Stange/The Observer

“New Nordic” even moved outside the restaurant. It wasn’t long after Noma began using Icelandic cultured milk in its kitchen, for example, that skyr began showing up in Danish supermarkets. These days, sea buckthorn can be found in everything from ice-cream to shampoo.

In Copenhagen especially, the effect was profound. The city’s restaurant scene expanded as Noma alumni graduated, opening ambitious places including Puglisi’s Relae and Matt Orlando’s Amass, quirky ones – Victor Wagman and Sam Nutter’s offal-friendly Bror, and casual spots such as Rosio Sanchez’s taco stand Hija de Sanchez. Though a mere decade earlier the city was seen as a culinary Siberia, Copenhagen became a foodie destination nearly as alluring as Barcelona or Paris. “That’s something I’m really proud of,” Redzepi says. “That we created a community.”

He was creating more than that. A New York Times op-ed here, an invitation to Davos there and, slowly, Redzepi began – like other well-known chefs in our food-obsessed age – to wield greater public influence. He was still in the kitchen, overseeing service and approving the recipes that flowed from Noma’s test kitchen and fermentation lab. And he remained sceptical of fame: “I say to my staff that it’s a loan, and one day you have to give it back.” But he also began speaking publicly about his desire to leave the profession better than he found it.

In 2011, he and his team launched Mad [Danish for food], a symposium that brought chefs together to talk about how they might make their industry and, not incidentally, the world better places. Every aspect of the conference, down to the soundboard, was run by Noma staff, and their palpable commitment was as important to the symposium’s success as it was at the restaurant. “Every single time I was at Noma I felt it,” says Nilsson. “There was a sense of momentum, the energy of everyone together, going forward.”

Until there wasn’t. Four years after the aeroplane metaphor came to Redzepi, he faced the real possibility of levelling off, or worse, of falling – 2013 was Noma’s annus horribilis. In February, norovirus sickened 63 Noma diners and set off spasms of media schadenfreude around the globe. In April, the restaurant fell to second place on the World’s 50 Best list. It had only recently recovered from a bout with near-bankruptcy, and Redzepi’s relationship with Meyer, which had been difficult for some time, was becoming untenable. “That’s the fear,” he says. “That you’re going to lose it all.”

So much of Redzepi’s drive is born of it: the fear that – whether abruptly in the form of a terrible review, or agonisingly, as the food world’s attention turns to the next big thing – it could all disappear. It is there, palpable, when he chews out a stagiaire for being anything less than perfect, and there too when he squirms over a blogger’s negative comment. In 2013, the fear almost, in his mind, became reality. So he did the only thing he could do: he unleashed his restlessness.


René Redzepi on Noma’s last supper – and what comes next

O n the night in 2009 when his restaurant reached No 3 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, René Redzepi’s thoughts turned to aviation. “It was a great moment,” he recalls. “But it also felt like that moment when you’re on a plane after it takes off, and you’re at 10,000 feet, and you’re wondering, is this where we level off? Or are we going to start climbing again?”

As it turned out, the climb for Noma had hardly begun: in the coming years, the restaurant would top the list four times, and Redzepi would launch several projects that would, in important ways, change the very nature of being a chef. But seven years, three international pop-ups, and one momentous decision later, the question remains as relevant to him as ever. René Redzepi is still wondering about the climb.

In February, Noma will serve its last meal. A little over a month later, the restaurant’s entire staff will move to the Mexican resort town of Tulum to open an outdoor restaurant – temporarily – deep in the jungle. For seven weeks they will serve Noma’s interpretation of tacos and mole to the hundreds of patrons who snatched up every ticket within a day of them going on sale. Then, in June, they will return to Copenhagen, and if all goes as planned, they will open a new, cutting-edge restaurant called Noma.

It would be easy to mistake as raw ambition the impulses that lead Redzepi to these kind of outsized exercises, much as it is easy to mistake the $600 a head (before tax and tip) tab for dinner at the Mexico pop-up as greed. But to a degree remarkable among those with access to such opportunities, he is not driven by a desire for fame or money. It is more like restlessness – a deep, nearly primal desire to keep moving forward, evolving, improving. It’s as if he is anaphylactically allergic to stasis.

On a rare sunny November morning in Copenhagen, Redzepi is, however, momentarily seated. He is drinking tea at 108, the new Noma-owned restaurant run by chef Kristian Baumann. Earlier in the week, he had learned that the city had finally granted all the building permits for the new Noma – so long as they agreed to shift the location by two metres. He had also learned that a potential sponsor for the Mexico pop-up was having second thoughts, which meant the restaurant was going to have to fund the endeavour, including the cost of flying and housing its staff, by itself.

“It’s so stressful,” Redzepi admits. “I want to abort once a month. But then I remember: we can’t. We’re six months pregnant.”

He means that metaphorically: the thing he will be giving birth to is not a child (though he would like to add another to the three he and his wife Nadine have) but a reinvented restaurant. And he has faced intense pressure in the past, and managed to harness his restlessness like some kind of renewable energy in order to power through it. But though the stakes were high before, they were nothing like this. If the comparison to giving birth makes sense, it’s because this time, Noma’s reinvention is about legacy.

Legacy is an unlikely thing for a 39-year-old to be thinking about. But you could say that Redzepi has been at it his entire career, ever since culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer went looking for a chef to head his new restaurant. At the time, fine dining in Denmark meant French cuisine, but Meyer’s vision was to show Danes that a restaurant could cook deliciously with ingredients from their own backyard. He found the 23-year-old Redzepi, recently graduated from apprenticeships at the French Laundry in California and elBulli in Spain, who signed on for what was supposed to be a simple restaurant, without Michelin-level ambition. Redzepi’s recollection of opening night reveals its modest aims. “I wasn’t nervous,” he says, “because I didn’t think we were doing anything new. We were just opening a restaurant.”

A tour of the region taught him about its possibilities. Redzepi learned he could substitute vinegar for citrus, seaweed for leafy greens. Soon it became an ambition, this quest for new ingredients and flavours. When a Swedish forager in wellies showed up at his kitchen with a sack of beach herbs, Redzepi saw the runway before him.

Instead of simply bringing in Nordic ingredients for French ones, he began rethinking what an ingredient was. He and his brigade learned to forage, bringing back wild plants and, eventually, insects that augmented the arsenal of flavours available to a kitchen devoted like none before it to understanding its terroir. Gradually, the kitchen also turned to older techniques like smoking, pickling and fermenting that were indigenous to the region.

The immediate response was sceptical, to put it mildly. Locally, Noma was either dismissed or mocked (as Redzepi still loves to recount, they were accused of doing unprintable things to seals). But it made them see themselves as scrappy underdogs. When Noma began to receive positive attention abroad, they weren’t sure they could trust it, and kept working.

Their reputation grew. The style of cooking Noma was developing – a naturalistic expression of time and place that became known as “new Nordic” – seemed the antithesis of the Spanish pyrotechnics that then dominated the gastronomic scene. “Before that, the world’s most notable restaurants all began with El and Le and La,” recalls Kate Krader, food and drinks editor of Bloomberg Pursuits. “Noma almost singlehandedly took the spotlight and shone it on northern Europe. It’s not that Noma discovered nature – Ferran and Albert [Adrià] had highlighted it at elBulli – but René sort of emerged from the Nordic woods with a clutch of mushrooms and a duck-hunting knife and put Copenhagen and Nordic cooking on the map.”

As Noma picked up accolades (two Michelin stars in 2008 the top slot on the World’s 50 Best list a couple of years later), its success inspired others in the region to pay attention to their landscape. Maintaining to varying degrees the geographic limitations that Redzepi had imposed on himself, restaurants like Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Dill in Reykjavik and Maaemo in Oslo also became identified with the Nordic trend. “They put the spotlight on the fact that there could be great restaurants in a region that was previously uncharted, gastronomically speaking. And that led to more,” says Magnus Nilsson, chef of the highly acclaimed Fäviken in northern Sweden. “I can’t definitely say that I wouldn’t have opened Fäviken without Noma, but it would have been harder. I wouldn’t have made the decision when and how I did.”

Noma’s kitchen became a magnet for young chefs from around the world eager to learn the new style. Isaac McHale, head chef of the Clove Club, can still tick off the impressive names in the kitchen when he did his apprenticeship at Noma in 2007: Christian Puglisi, Torsten Vildgaard, Daniel Burns, Ben Greeno, Jon Tam, Sam Miller, Brad McDonald. “The team when I was there was like the Harlem Globetrotters,” McHale recalls. “They’ve all gone on to do great things.”

Noma’s apple of the season with oxalis, paste of fermented black apple and elderflower oil. Photograph: Ty Stange/The Observer

“New Nordic” even moved outside the restaurant. It wasn’t long after Noma began using Icelandic cultured milk in its kitchen, for example, that skyr began showing up in Danish supermarkets. These days, sea buckthorn can be found in everything from ice-cream to shampoo.

In Copenhagen especially, the effect was profound. The city’s restaurant scene expanded as Noma alumni graduated, opening ambitious places including Puglisi’s Relae and Matt Orlando’s Amass, quirky ones – Victor Wagman and Sam Nutter’s offal-friendly Bror, and casual spots such as Rosio Sanchez’s taco stand Hija de Sanchez. Though a mere decade earlier the city was seen as a culinary Siberia, Copenhagen became a foodie destination nearly as alluring as Barcelona or Paris. “That’s something I’m really proud of,” Redzepi says. “That we created a community.”

He was creating more than that. A New York Times op-ed here, an invitation to Davos there and, slowly, Redzepi began – like other well-known chefs in our food-obsessed age – to wield greater public influence. He was still in the kitchen, overseeing service and approving the recipes that flowed from Noma’s test kitchen and fermentation lab. And he remained sceptical of fame: “I say to my staff that it’s a loan, and one day you have to give it back.” But he also began speaking publicly about his desire to leave the profession better than he found it.

In 2011, he and his team launched Mad [Danish for food], a symposium that brought chefs together to talk about how they might make their industry and, not incidentally, the world better places. Every aspect of the conference, down to the soundboard, was run by Noma staff, and their palpable commitment was as important to the symposium’s success as it was at the restaurant. “Every single time I was at Noma I felt it,” says Nilsson. “There was a sense of momentum, the energy of everyone together, going forward.”

Until there wasn’t. Four years after the aeroplane metaphor came to Redzepi, he faced the real possibility of levelling off, or worse, of falling – 2013 was Noma’s annus horribilis. In February, norovirus sickened 63 Noma diners and set off spasms of media schadenfreude around the globe. In April, the restaurant fell to second place on the World’s 50 Best list. It had only recently recovered from a bout with near-bankruptcy, and Redzepi’s relationship with Meyer, which had been difficult for some time, was becoming untenable. “That’s the fear,” he says. “That you’re going to lose it all.”

So much of Redzepi’s drive is born of it: the fear that – whether abruptly in the form of a terrible review, or agonisingly, as the food world’s attention turns to the next big thing – it could all disappear. It is there, palpable, when he chews out a stagiaire for being anything less than perfect, and there too when he squirms over a blogger’s negative comment. In 2013, the fear almost, in his mind, became reality. So he did the only thing he could do: he unleashed his restlessness.


René Redzepi on Noma’s last supper – and what comes next

O n the night in 2009 when his restaurant reached No 3 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, René Redzepi’s thoughts turned to aviation. “It was a great moment,” he recalls. “But it also felt like that moment when you’re on a plane after it takes off, and you’re at 10,000 feet, and you’re wondering, is this where we level off? Or are we going to start climbing again?”

As it turned out, the climb for Noma had hardly begun: in the coming years, the restaurant would top the list four times, and Redzepi would launch several projects that would, in important ways, change the very nature of being a chef. But seven years, three international pop-ups, and one momentous decision later, the question remains as relevant to him as ever. René Redzepi is still wondering about the climb.

In February, Noma will serve its last meal. A little over a month later, the restaurant’s entire staff will move to the Mexican resort town of Tulum to open an outdoor restaurant – temporarily – deep in the jungle. For seven weeks they will serve Noma’s interpretation of tacos and mole to the hundreds of patrons who snatched up every ticket within a day of them going on sale. Then, in June, they will return to Copenhagen, and if all goes as planned, they will open a new, cutting-edge restaurant called Noma.

It would be easy to mistake as raw ambition the impulses that lead Redzepi to these kind of outsized exercises, much as it is easy to mistake the $600 a head (before tax and tip) tab for dinner at the Mexico pop-up as greed. But to a degree remarkable among those with access to such opportunities, he is not driven by a desire for fame or money. It is more like restlessness – a deep, nearly primal desire to keep moving forward, evolving, improving. It’s as if he is anaphylactically allergic to stasis.

On a rare sunny November morning in Copenhagen, Redzepi is, however, momentarily seated. He is drinking tea at 108, the new Noma-owned restaurant run by chef Kristian Baumann. Earlier in the week, he had learned that the city had finally granted all the building permits for the new Noma – so long as they agreed to shift the location by two metres. He had also learned that a potential sponsor for the Mexico pop-up was having second thoughts, which meant the restaurant was going to have to fund the endeavour, including the cost of flying and housing its staff, by itself.

“It’s so stressful,” Redzepi admits. “I want to abort once a month. But then I remember: we can’t. We’re six months pregnant.”

He means that metaphorically: the thing he will be giving birth to is not a child (though he would like to add another to the three he and his wife Nadine have) but a reinvented restaurant. And he has faced intense pressure in the past, and managed to harness his restlessness like some kind of renewable energy in order to power through it. But though the stakes were high before, they were nothing like this. If the comparison to giving birth makes sense, it’s because this time, Noma’s reinvention is about legacy.

Legacy is an unlikely thing for a 39-year-old to be thinking about. But you could say that Redzepi has been at it his entire career, ever since culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer went looking for a chef to head his new restaurant. At the time, fine dining in Denmark meant French cuisine, but Meyer’s vision was to show Danes that a restaurant could cook deliciously with ingredients from their own backyard. He found the 23-year-old Redzepi, recently graduated from apprenticeships at the French Laundry in California and elBulli in Spain, who signed on for what was supposed to be a simple restaurant, without Michelin-level ambition. Redzepi’s recollection of opening night reveals its modest aims. “I wasn’t nervous,” he says, “because I didn’t think we were doing anything new. We were just opening a restaurant.”

A tour of the region taught him about its possibilities. Redzepi learned he could substitute vinegar for citrus, seaweed for leafy greens. Soon it became an ambition, this quest for new ingredients and flavours. When a Swedish forager in wellies showed up at his kitchen with a sack of beach herbs, Redzepi saw the runway before him.

Instead of simply bringing in Nordic ingredients for French ones, he began rethinking what an ingredient was. He and his brigade learned to forage, bringing back wild plants and, eventually, insects that augmented the arsenal of flavours available to a kitchen devoted like none before it to understanding its terroir. Gradually, the kitchen also turned to older techniques like smoking, pickling and fermenting that were indigenous to the region.

The immediate response was sceptical, to put it mildly. Locally, Noma was either dismissed or mocked (as Redzepi still loves to recount, they were accused of doing unprintable things to seals). But it made them see themselves as scrappy underdogs. When Noma began to receive positive attention abroad, they weren’t sure they could trust it, and kept working.

Their reputation grew. The style of cooking Noma was developing – a naturalistic expression of time and place that became known as “new Nordic” – seemed the antithesis of the Spanish pyrotechnics that then dominated the gastronomic scene. “Before that, the world’s most notable restaurants all began with El and Le and La,” recalls Kate Krader, food and drinks editor of Bloomberg Pursuits. “Noma almost singlehandedly took the spotlight and shone it on northern Europe. It’s not that Noma discovered nature – Ferran and Albert [Adrià] had highlighted it at elBulli – but René sort of emerged from the Nordic woods with a clutch of mushrooms and a duck-hunting knife and put Copenhagen and Nordic cooking on the map.”

As Noma picked up accolades (two Michelin stars in 2008 the top slot on the World’s 50 Best list a couple of years later), its success inspired others in the region to pay attention to their landscape. Maintaining to varying degrees the geographic limitations that Redzepi had imposed on himself, restaurants like Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Dill in Reykjavik and Maaemo in Oslo also became identified with the Nordic trend. “They put the spotlight on the fact that there could be great restaurants in a region that was previously uncharted, gastronomically speaking. And that led to more,” says Magnus Nilsson, chef of the highly acclaimed Fäviken in northern Sweden. “I can’t definitely say that I wouldn’t have opened Fäviken without Noma, but it would have been harder. I wouldn’t have made the decision when and how I did.”

Noma’s kitchen became a magnet for young chefs from around the world eager to learn the new style. Isaac McHale, head chef of the Clove Club, can still tick off the impressive names in the kitchen when he did his apprenticeship at Noma in 2007: Christian Puglisi, Torsten Vildgaard, Daniel Burns, Ben Greeno, Jon Tam, Sam Miller, Brad McDonald. “The team when I was there was like the Harlem Globetrotters,” McHale recalls. “They’ve all gone on to do great things.”

Noma’s apple of the season with oxalis, paste of fermented black apple and elderflower oil. Photograph: Ty Stange/The Observer

“New Nordic” even moved outside the restaurant. It wasn’t long after Noma began using Icelandic cultured milk in its kitchen, for example, that skyr began showing up in Danish supermarkets. These days, sea buckthorn can be found in everything from ice-cream to shampoo.

In Copenhagen especially, the effect was profound. The city’s restaurant scene expanded as Noma alumni graduated, opening ambitious places including Puglisi’s Relae and Matt Orlando’s Amass, quirky ones – Victor Wagman and Sam Nutter’s offal-friendly Bror, and casual spots such as Rosio Sanchez’s taco stand Hija de Sanchez. Though a mere decade earlier the city was seen as a culinary Siberia, Copenhagen became a foodie destination nearly as alluring as Barcelona or Paris. “That’s something I’m really proud of,” Redzepi says. “That we created a community.”

He was creating more than that. A New York Times op-ed here, an invitation to Davos there and, slowly, Redzepi began – like other well-known chefs in our food-obsessed age – to wield greater public influence. He was still in the kitchen, overseeing service and approving the recipes that flowed from Noma’s test kitchen and fermentation lab. And he remained sceptical of fame: “I say to my staff that it’s a loan, and one day you have to give it back.” But he also began speaking publicly about his desire to leave the profession better than he found it.

In 2011, he and his team launched Mad [Danish for food], a symposium that brought chefs together to talk about how they might make their industry and, not incidentally, the world better places. Every aspect of the conference, down to the soundboard, was run by Noma staff, and their palpable commitment was as important to the symposium’s success as it was at the restaurant. “Every single time I was at Noma I felt it,” says Nilsson. “There was a sense of momentum, the energy of everyone together, going forward.”

Until there wasn’t. Four years after the aeroplane metaphor came to Redzepi, he faced the real possibility of levelling off, or worse, of falling – 2013 was Noma’s annus horribilis. In February, norovirus sickened 63 Noma diners and set off spasms of media schadenfreude around the globe. In April, the restaurant fell to second place on the World’s 50 Best list. It had only recently recovered from a bout with near-bankruptcy, and Redzepi’s relationship with Meyer, which had been difficult for some time, was becoming untenable. “That’s the fear,” he says. “That you’re going to lose it all.”

So much of Redzepi’s drive is born of it: the fear that – whether abruptly in the form of a terrible review, or agonisingly, as the food world’s attention turns to the next big thing – it could all disappear. It is there, palpable, when he chews out a stagiaire for being anything less than perfect, and there too when he squirms over a blogger’s negative comment. In 2013, the fear almost, in his mind, became reality. So he did the only thing he could do: he unleashed his restlessness.


René Redzepi on Noma’s last supper – and what comes next

O n the night in 2009 when his restaurant reached No 3 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, René Redzepi’s thoughts turned to aviation. “It was a great moment,” he recalls. “But it also felt like that moment when you’re on a plane after it takes off, and you’re at 10,000 feet, and you’re wondering, is this where we level off? Or are we going to start climbing again?”

As it turned out, the climb for Noma had hardly begun: in the coming years, the restaurant would top the list four times, and Redzepi would launch several projects that would, in important ways, change the very nature of being a chef. But seven years, three international pop-ups, and one momentous decision later, the question remains as relevant to him as ever. René Redzepi is still wondering about the climb.

In February, Noma will serve its last meal. A little over a month later, the restaurant’s entire staff will move to the Mexican resort town of Tulum to open an outdoor restaurant – temporarily – deep in the jungle. For seven weeks they will serve Noma’s interpretation of tacos and mole to the hundreds of patrons who snatched up every ticket within a day of them going on sale. Then, in June, they will return to Copenhagen, and if all goes as planned, they will open a new, cutting-edge restaurant called Noma.

It would be easy to mistake as raw ambition the impulses that lead Redzepi to these kind of outsized exercises, much as it is easy to mistake the $600 a head (before tax and tip) tab for dinner at the Mexico pop-up as greed. But to a degree remarkable among those with access to such opportunities, he is not driven by a desire for fame or money. It is more like restlessness – a deep, nearly primal desire to keep moving forward, evolving, improving. It’s as if he is anaphylactically allergic to stasis.

On a rare sunny November morning in Copenhagen, Redzepi is, however, momentarily seated. He is drinking tea at 108, the new Noma-owned restaurant run by chef Kristian Baumann. Earlier in the week, he had learned that the city had finally granted all the building permits for the new Noma – so long as they agreed to shift the location by two metres. He had also learned that a potential sponsor for the Mexico pop-up was having second thoughts, which meant the restaurant was going to have to fund the endeavour, including the cost of flying and housing its staff, by itself.

“It’s so stressful,” Redzepi admits. “I want to abort once a month. But then I remember: we can’t. We’re six months pregnant.”

He means that metaphorically: the thing he will be giving birth to is not a child (though he would like to add another to the three he and his wife Nadine have) but a reinvented restaurant. And he has faced intense pressure in the past, and managed to harness his restlessness like some kind of renewable energy in order to power through it. But though the stakes were high before, they were nothing like this. If the comparison to giving birth makes sense, it’s because this time, Noma’s reinvention is about legacy.

Legacy is an unlikely thing for a 39-year-old to be thinking about. But you could say that Redzepi has been at it his entire career, ever since culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer went looking for a chef to head his new restaurant. At the time, fine dining in Denmark meant French cuisine, but Meyer’s vision was to show Danes that a restaurant could cook deliciously with ingredients from their own backyard. He found the 23-year-old Redzepi, recently graduated from apprenticeships at the French Laundry in California and elBulli in Spain, who signed on for what was supposed to be a simple restaurant, without Michelin-level ambition. Redzepi’s recollection of opening night reveals its modest aims. “I wasn’t nervous,” he says, “because I didn’t think we were doing anything new. We were just opening a restaurant.”

A tour of the region taught him about its possibilities. Redzepi learned he could substitute vinegar for citrus, seaweed for leafy greens. Soon it became an ambition, this quest for new ingredients and flavours. When a Swedish forager in wellies showed up at his kitchen with a sack of beach herbs, Redzepi saw the runway before him.

Instead of simply bringing in Nordic ingredients for French ones, he began rethinking what an ingredient was. He and his brigade learned to forage, bringing back wild plants and, eventually, insects that augmented the arsenal of flavours available to a kitchen devoted like none before it to understanding its terroir. Gradually, the kitchen also turned to older techniques like smoking, pickling and fermenting that were indigenous to the region.

The immediate response was sceptical, to put it mildly. Locally, Noma was either dismissed or mocked (as Redzepi still loves to recount, they were accused of doing unprintable things to seals). But it made them see themselves as scrappy underdogs. When Noma began to receive positive attention abroad, they weren’t sure they could trust it, and kept working.

Their reputation grew. The style of cooking Noma was developing – a naturalistic expression of time and place that became known as “new Nordic” – seemed the antithesis of the Spanish pyrotechnics that then dominated the gastronomic scene. “Before that, the world’s most notable restaurants all began with El and Le and La,” recalls Kate Krader, food and drinks editor of Bloomberg Pursuits. “Noma almost singlehandedly took the spotlight and shone it on northern Europe. It’s not that Noma discovered nature – Ferran and Albert [Adrià] had highlighted it at elBulli – but René sort of emerged from the Nordic woods with a clutch of mushrooms and a duck-hunting knife and put Copenhagen and Nordic cooking on the map.”

As Noma picked up accolades (two Michelin stars in 2008 the top slot on the World’s 50 Best list a couple of years later), its success inspired others in the region to pay attention to their landscape. Maintaining to varying degrees the geographic limitations that Redzepi had imposed on himself, restaurants like Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Dill in Reykjavik and Maaemo in Oslo also became identified with the Nordic trend. “They put the spotlight on the fact that there could be great restaurants in a region that was previously uncharted, gastronomically speaking. And that led to more,” says Magnus Nilsson, chef of the highly acclaimed Fäviken in northern Sweden. “I can’t definitely say that I wouldn’t have opened Fäviken without Noma, but it would have been harder. I wouldn’t have made the decision when and how I did.”

Noma’s kitchen became a magnet for young chefs from around the world eager to learn the new style. Isaac McHale, head chef of the Clove Club, can still tick off the impressive names in the kitchen when he did his apprenticeship at Noma in 2007: Christian Puglisi, Torsten Vildgaard, Daniel Burns, Ben Greeno, Jon Tam, Sam Miller, Brad McDonald. “The team when I was there was like the Harlem Globetrotters,” McHale recalls. “They’ve all gone on to do great things.”

Noma’s apple of the season with oxalis, paste of fermented black apple and elderflower oil. Photograph: Ty Stange/The Observer

“New Nordic” even moved outside the restaurant. It wasn’t long after Noma began using Icelandic cultured milk in its kitchen, for example, that skyr began showing up in Danish supermarkets. These days, sea buckthorn can be found in everything from ice-cream to shampoo.

In Copenhagen especially, the effect was profound. The city’s restaurant scene expanded as Noma alumni graduated, opening ambitious places including Puglisi’s Relae and Matt Orlando’s Amass, quirky ones – Victor Wagman and Sam Nutter’s offal-friendly Bror, and casual spots such as Rosio Sanchez’s taco stand Hija de Sanchez. Though a mere decade earlier the city was seen as a culinary Siberia, Copenhagen became a foodie destination nearly as alluring as Barcelona or Paris. “That’s something I’m really proud of,” Redzepi says. “That we created a community.”

He was creating more than that. A New York Times op-ed here, an invitation to Davos there and, slowly, Redzepi began – like other well-known chefs in our food-obsessed age – to wield greater public influence. He was still in the kitchen, overseeing service and approving the recipes that flowed from Noma’s test kitchen and fermentation lab. And he remained sceptical of fame: “I say to my staff that it’s a loan, and one day you have to give it back.” But he also began speaking publicly about his desire to leave the profession better than he found it.

In 2011, he and his team launched Mad [Danish for food], a symposium that brought chefs together to talk about how they might make their industry and, not incidentally, the world better places. Every aspect of the conference, down to the soundboard, was run by Noma staff, and their palpable commitment was as important to the symposium’s success as it was at the restaurant. “Every single time I was at Noma I felt it,” says Nilsson. “There was a sense of momentum, the energy of everyone together, going forward.”

Until there wasn’t. Four years after the aeroplane metaphor came to Redzepi, he faced the real possibility of levelling off, or worse, of falling – 2013 was Noma’s annus horribilis. In February, norovirus sickened 63 Noma diners and set off spasms of media schadenfreude around the globe. In April, the restaurant fell to second place on the World’s 50 Best list. It had only recently recovered from a bout with near-bankruptcy, and Redzepi’s relationship with Meyer, which had been difficult for some time, was becoming untenable. “That’s the fear,” he says. “That you’re going to lose it all.”

So much of Redzepi’s drive is born of it: the fear that – whether abruptly in the form of a terrible review, or agonisingly, as the food world’s attention turns to the next big thing – it could all disappear. It is there, palpable, when he chews out a stagiaire for being anything less than perfect, and there too when he squirms over a blogger’s negative comment. In 2013, the fear almost, in his mind, became reality. So he did the only thing he could do: he unleashed his restlessness.


René Redzepi on Noma’s last supper – and what comes next

O n the night in 2009 when his restaurant reached No 3 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, René Redzepi’s thoughts turned to aviation. “It was a great moment,” he recalls. “But it also felt like that moment when you’re on a plane after it takes off, and you’re at 10,000 feet, and you’re wondering, is this where we level off? Or are we going to start climbing again?”

As it turned out, the climb for Noma had hardly begun: in the coming years, the restaurant would top the list four times, and Redzepi would launch several projects that would, in important ways, change the very nature of being a chef. But seven years, three international pop-ups, and one momentous decision later, the question remains as relevant to him as ever. René Redzepi is still wondering about the climb.

In February, Noma will serve its last meal. A little over a month later, the restaurant’s entire staff will move to the Mexican resort town of Tulum to open an outdoor restaurant – temporarily – deep in the jungle. For seven weeks they will serve Noma’s interpretation of tacos and mole to the hundreds of patrons who snatched up every ticket within a day of them going on sale. Then, in June, they will return to Copenhagen, and if all goes as planned, they will open a new, cutting-edge restaurant called Noma.

It would be easy to mistake as raw ambition the impulses that lead Redzepi to these kind of outsized exercises, much as it is easy to mistake the $600 a head (before tax and tip) tab for dinner at the Mexico pop-up as greed. But to a degree remarkable among those with access to such opportunities, he is not driven by a desire for fame or money. It is more like restlessness – a deep, nearly primal desire to keep moving forward, evolving, improving. It’s as if he is anaphylactically allergic to stasis.

On a rare sunny November morning in Copenhagen, Redzepi is, however, momentarily seated. He is drinking tea at 108, the new Noma-owned restaurant run by chef Kristian Baumann. Earlier in the week, he had learned that the city had finally granted all the building permits for the new Noma – so long as they agreed to shift the location by two metres. He had also learned that a potential sponsor for the Mexico pop-up was having second thoughts, which meant the restaurant was going to have to fund the endeavour, including the cost of flying and housing its staff, by itself.

“It’s so stressful,” Redzepi admits. “I want to abort once a month. But then I remember: we can’t. We’re six months pregnant.”

He means that metaphorically: the thing he will be giving birth to is not a child (though he would like to add another to the three he and his wife Nadine have) but a reinvented restaurant. And he has faced intense pressure in the past, and managed to harness his restlessness like some kind of renewable energy in order to power through it. But though the stakes were high before, they were nothing like this. If the comparison to giving birth makes sense, it’s because this time, Noma’s reinvention is about legacy.

Legacy is an unlikely thing for a 39-year-old to be thinking about. But you could say that Redzepi has been at it his entire career, ever since culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer went looking for a chef to head his new restaurant. At the time, fine dining in Denmark meant French cuisine, but Meyer’s vision was to show Danes that a restaurant could cook deliciously with ingredients from their own backyard. He found the 23-year-old Redzepi, recently graduated from apprenticeships at the French Laundry in California and elBulli in Spain, who signed on for what was supposed to be a simple restaurant, without Michelin-level ambition. Redzepi’s recollection of opening night reveals its modest aims. “I wasn’t nervous,” he says, “because I didn’t think we were doing anything new. We were just opening a restaurant.”

A tour of the region taught him about its possibilities. Redzepi learned he could substitute vinegar for citrus, seaweed for leafy greens. Soon it became an ambition, this quest for new ingredients and flavours. When a Swedish forager in wellies showed up at his kitchen with a sack of beach herbs, Redzepi saw the runway before him.

Instead of simply bringing in Nordic ingredients for French ones, he began rethinking what an ingredient was. He and his brigade learned to forage, bringing back wild plants and, eventually, insects that augmented the arsenal of flavours available to a kitchen devoted like none before it to understanding its terroir. Gradually, the kitchen also turned to older techniques like smoking, pickling and fermenting that were indigenous to the region.

The immediate response was sceptical, to put it mildly. Locally, Noma was either dismissed or mocked (as Redzepi still loves to recount, they were accused of doing unprintable things to seals). But it made them see themselves as scrappy underdogs. When Noma began to receive positive attention abroad, they weren’t sure they could trust it, and kept working.

Their reputation grew. The style of cooking Noma was developing – a naturalistic expression of time and place that became known as “new Nordic” – seemed the antithesis of the Spanish pyrotechnics that then dominated the gastronomic scene. “Before that, the world’s most notable restaurants all began with El and Le and La,” recalls Kate Krader, food and drinks editor of Bloomberg Pursuits. “Noma almost singlehandedly took the spotlight and shone it on northern Europe. It’s not that Noma discovered nature – Ferran and Albert [Adrià] had highlighted it at elBulli – but René sort of emerged from the Nordic woods with a clutch of mushrooms and a duck-hunting knife and put Copenhagen and Nordic cooking on the map.”

As Noma picked up accolades (two Michelin stars in 2008 the top slot on the World’s 50 Best list a couple of years later), its success inspired others in the region to pay attention to their landscape. Maintaining to varying degrees the geographic limitations that Redzepi had imposed on himself, restaurants like Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Dill in Reykjavik and Maaemo in Oslo also became identified with the Nordic trend. “They put the spotlight on the fact that there could be great restaurants in a region that was previously uncharted, gastronomically speaking. And that led to more,” says Magnus Nilsson, chef of the highly acclaimed Fäviken in northern Sweden. “I can’t definitely say that I wouldn’t have opened Fäviken without Noma, but it would have been harder. I wouldn’t have made the decision when and how I did.”

Noma’s kitchen became a magnet for young chefs from around the world eager to learn the new style. Isaac McHale, head chef of the Clove Club, can still tick off the impressive names in the kitchen when he did his apprenticeship at Noma in 2007: Christian Puglisi, Torsten Vildgaard, Daniel Burns, Ben Greeno, Jon Tam, Sam Miller, Brad McDonald. “The team when I was there was like the Harlem Globetrotters,” McHale recalls. “They’ve all gone on to do great things.”

Noma’s apple of the season with oxalis, paste of fermented black apple and elderflower oil. Photograph: Ty Stange/The Observer

“New Nordic” even moved outside the restaurant. It wasn’t long after Noma began using Icelandic cultured milk in its kitchen, for example, that skyr began showing up in Danish supermarkets. These days, sea buckthorn can be found in everything from ice-cream to shampoo.

In Copenhagen especially, the effect was profound. The city’s restaurant scene expanded as Noma alumni graduated, opening ambitious places including Puglisi’s Relae and Matt Orlando’s Amass, quirky ones – Victor Wagman and Sam Nutter’s offal-friendly Bror, and casual spots such as Rosio Sanchez’s taco stand Hija de Sanchez. Though a mere decade earlier the city was seen as a culinary Siberia, Copenhagen became a foodie destination nearly as alluring as Barcelona or Paris. “That’s something I’m really proud of,” Redzepi says. “That we created a community.”

He was creating more than that. A New York Times op-ed here, an invitation to Davos there and, slowly, Redzepi began – like other well-known chefs in our food-obsessed age – to wield greater public influence. He was still in the kitchen, overseeing service and approving the recipes that flowed from Noma’s test kitchen and fermentation lab. And he remained sceptical of fame: “I say to my staff that it’s a loan, and one day you have to give it back.” But he also began speaking publicly about his desire to leave the profession better than he found it.

In 2011, he and his team launched Mad [Danish for food], a symposium that brought chefs together to talk about how they might make their industry and, not incidentally, the world better places. Every aspect of the conference, down to the soundboard, was run by Noma staff, and their palpable commitment was as important to the symposium’s success as it was at the restaurant. “Every single time I was at Noma I felt it,” says Nilsson. “There was a sense of momentum, the energy of everyone together, going forward.”

Until there wasn’t. Four years after the aeroplane metaphor came to Redzepi, he faced the real possibility of levelling off, or worse, of falling – 2013 was Noma’s annus horribilis. In February, norovirus sickened 63 Noma diners and set off spasms of media schadenfreude around the globe. In April, the restaurant fell to second place on the World’s 50 Best list. It had only recently recovered from a bout with near-bankruptcy, and Redzepi’s relationship with Meyer, which had been difficult for some time, was becoming untenable. “That’s the fear,” he says. “That you’re going to lose it all.”

So much of Redzepi’s drive is born of it: the fear that – whether abruptly in the form of a terrible review, or agonisingly, as the food world’s attention turns to the next big thing – it could all disappear. It is there, palpable, when he chews out a stagiaire for being anything less than perfect, and there too when he squirms over a blogger’s negative comment. In 2013, the fear almost, in his mind, became reality. So he did the only thing he could do: he unleashed his restlessness.